06 October 2006

School Daze

I never knew that sending kids to school involved so much audience participation.

I certainly expected to be supervising homework (my eldest has regular short assignments for spelling, math and Spanish), making lunches and actually getting kids to and from school, all of which we do. Four days out of five we make the ten minute walk, which we do if the weather is good and we aren't running too late. About once a week, we are running late and have to drive -- also about the frequency with which school lunch making doesn't happen and the kids get hot lunch at school with the couple lunches worth of funds we have in their lunch accounts (a great deal at $1.40 a meal).

But, it seems that scarcely a week goes by without some form to return. Suffice it to say that an integrated parent contact information database does not exist yet. There always seems to be some fund raiser to attend to. We've had six so far this semester, by my count, but I may have missed some. There is always some school event to be aware of and attend, a show and tell item to bring, or classroom pets to bring home and back for the weekend. And, almost every weekened one of my children seem to be invited to a birthday party for one of their classmates. This weekened, we have a school event, but no birthday party.

We've somehow overlooked some of the missives, moreover, such as the registration period for fall soccer, which closed before it even occurred to us to think about it. Others we've simply been too overwhelmed, with the ordinary demands of school and two working parents, to keep up with. If we don't even have time to fill out the form, we are probably too busy to attend the extracurricular events they are advertising anyway. Likewise, PTA meetings and school committees are currently out of the question. Mere rank and file parenting is more than enough to keep us occupied.

All this involvement isn't necessarily a bad thing. I want to support the school, and know for a fact that the fundraisers do make a difference in my child's school experience -- it helps put a paraprofessional or student teacher in every classroom. I want to know what's going on with my kids. I had just never been aware of how frequently parents interact with the school. Indeed, I'm not at all conviced that it was that frequent when I was in elementary school. Of course, despite all the communication from the school, when I ask my children "what did you do at school today?", I am still universally met with blank stares and silence.

I was also under the false impression that public education was free. It is heavily subsidized by state funds and local property taxes with a dollup of federal grants on top of that, but my family current pays five tuition bills -- one for full day kindergarten, one per child for afterschool care at the school, and one per child for afterschool Spanish classes, on top of school supplies and fundraisers. I'm not saying that this is improper. I'm indeed very glad that the programs we pay for are available. They are an important factor that makes us feel comfortable with keeping our children in the Denver Public Schools, rather than seeking out a private school for them. But, clearly, the ideal of free public education is fraying around the edges.

I suppose that the upside is that I am not the least bit worried about a school shooting, despite the high profile events of the past few weeks. The letter for the principal we received yesterday discussing school security closed with the point that one of the best things for the school to do is, rather than locking itself up like a prison, having parents who are helping out serve as extra eyes and ears to be mindful of suspicious activity. In any case, little emergencies, like little hands touching hot peppers from the school garden and then touching little eyes, are simply much more pressing. We don't have time to be scared.

1 comment:

Jude said...

My kids are in middle school and college, but I remember the annoying number of times I had to sign my name to various forms. I considered purchasing a signature stamp for awhile. For some reason, that's getting better now that they're older, although I still have to sign two reading logs and two planners per week.

I've generally been involved in PTA for two reasons: 1) you get to know the principal and more teachers, and this can create positive benefits in the treatment for your kids and 2) you find out more about what's happening at the school and within the district than you would otherwise.

By the way, take it from an experienced parent, never ask your kids "What did you do at school today?" Try, "Can you tell me one *good* thing that happened today?" They can usually think of a good thing, and if that doesn't work, you can always ask about a bad thing.

I read an article a couple of years ago about parental involvement at military base schools. They have amazing parent involvement and correlate that with improved student grades and performance. For years, my involvement has been mostly in the form of annual presentations and cemetery tours, although now I'm using my musical ability as a volunteer with the band and my librarian knowledge to teach searching skills. Generally, if you pay attention to the standards for each grade level, you can find a way to contribute your intelligence and experience on an occasional basis. It sure beats baking cookies.